"Help! My Bonsai tree is dying!" Unfortunately, we get these cries for help quite often on our forums. So it was time a guide on reviving a dying Bonsai was written. I take you through the steps needed to rescue your bonsai.

 

Bad news...

I hate to bring it to you, but trees don't generally die of old age, so probably you messed up the care for your Bonsai. And now that you finally found this page, quite likely you're too late.

And the good news? How do you revive a bonsai tree?

Well, there's hope we can save your tree. Bonsai care is really not that difficult. But we estimate that more than 75% of newly bought Bonsai trees die within the first month. Follow the steps below to succeed at growing a bonsai tree.

 

 

STEP 1 - Identify your tree

First of all, you need to know what tree species you have. An indoor Bonsai has entirely different needs compared to an outdoor Bonsai. You need to adept the care for your Bonsai to its specific needs.

Most likely, you have a Juniper tree. If not, you might have a Ficus tree. If you're not sure, use our guide on "Identifying my Bonsai tree" (opens in a new screen).

 

 

Juniper bonsai plant

A popular size and shape of Juniper Bonsai.

 

STEP 2 - Learn about the specific care for your Bonsai

In the previous step you have identified your tree, now you need to understand how to take care of your tree. If you have a Ficus or a Juniper, click on the links under the images above to read more. If your tree isn't one of these, identify your tree here and read more about your tree species before continuing with the next step.

When you adept the watering, fertilizing and position of your Bonsai to its specific needs you are on the right way to keep it alive!

 

STEP 3 - Learn from the most common mistakes in Bonsai care

Most likely, now that you have read about your specific tree-species, you know what you did wrong. Here are your options:

#1 Mistake: forgot to water

Bonsai trees are planted in small pots, so they don't have much reserves in terms of nutrients and water. If you forget to water your Bonsai until the soil dries out completely, the tree's roots dry out and die. Within days you will see the leaves of your tree wither and fall off, or in case you have an evergreen its foliage will slowly turn yellow. If the roots have dried up completely you can't save the tree. If the roots didn't dry out completely you can rescue the tree by watering it properly from now on.

So how often do you need to water? This really depends on your tree and the soil it is planted in. I can't give you a rule; you need to check the soil of your tree and water when it gets slightly dry. Most cheap Bonsai trees are planted in a clay-like soil (this is the only way they can be imported from China in large containers), this soil doesn't absorb water quickly so when you water your tree shortly chances are the water ends up under the pot, instead of in the soil. Check on your tree when watering and do it thoroughly. With thoroughly I mean you should water your tree, wait a few minutes, and water it again, to make sure the entire soil-mass is watered. When your tree recovers, repot it in a proper soil mix.

Read more about watering Bonsai trees and about repotting your bonsai.

 

#2 Mistake: putting an outdoor tree inside

The Juniper is one of the most common Bonsai trees for beginners, but it is an outdoor tree. When placed inside, its needles will turn yellow and the tree will slowly die. Now that you have identified your tree species, you know where to put it.

In general, place indoor Bonsai at a window facing the south and place outdoor Bonsai at a bright spot somewhat protected from strong wind. Read more on Indoor Bonsai and Outdoor Bonsai care.

 

#3 Mistake: too much watering

I explained about the importance of Bonsai soil above; some soils retain water very well and in this case, overwatering can be a real problem. If your tree is planted in a water-retaining soil and it is constantly wet, the roots will start to rot and die. While forgetting to water a tree can kill it in just a few days, killing a tree by overwatering is something that will take weeks.

Read more about Watering Bonsai trees.

 

#4 Mistake: not enough light

Most, if not all indoor Bonsai plants are (sub) tropical trees. This means they need a lot of light, and most homes are simply not light enough. Place your tree directly at a window facing the south. Anything else is just not good enough.

Read more about choosing the right place for your tree.

 

#5 Mistake: no patience

Some beginners try to redesign their tree every other week; you don't need to be a plant expert to realize this is not working. Big changes to your Bonsai (like repotting or significant pruning) should be done once a year, at the right time of year. In between these stylings, care for your tree and prune to maintain its shape, but do not attempt to make big changes more than once a year.

 

STEP 4 - In case you didn't make those mistakes

In the highly unlikely case your tree is dying without any of the described mistakes made, the only option is that your tree is infected with some kind of pest. Check the leaves of your tree carefully for insects and carefully remove the tree from its pot to see if there are insects in the root mass.

Read more on Bonsai pests and diseases or post a few images on our Bonsai forum to get help.

 

 

STEP 5 - Rescuing your Bonsai tree

The only thing you can do is to take proper care of your tree from now on. Never forget to water it and place it at the right location. Hopefully your tree will recover!

 

STEP 6 - Your long-term plan

Growing Bonsai trees is a fascinating hobby, so it's a real shame many beginners fail to keep their trees alive, especially because Bonsai care isn't that difficult. Knowing which tree species you have and what your Bonsai needs is all there is to it. Keep learning and improving!